CONNECTIONS WINTER 2018

iChallengeU to PBL

PROJECT BASED LEARNING GROWS AT HOLLAND CHRISTIAN

Ask any Holland Christian teacher who participated in an OAISD summer project-based learning (PBL) experience this past summer why they took the class, and you’re going to hear a common refrain. Something like, “It’s a program that I had heard really great things about, and I wanted to see if there were ways to plug in project based learning into my kind of classes,” according to Katelyn Roskamp, HCMS Spanish teacher.

Or, “I know kids learn best by doing,” said Kim VanderZwaag, 4th grade teacher at Rose Park. “I’m always on the lookout for new and upcoming teaching methods that actually work, and I had heard rave reviews about this.”

It seems everyone who did it, loved it. Plus we’re seeing the program transforming education here at Holland Christian in a very positive way.

Project based learning, or PBL, is a current forward-thinking teaching method that allows students to explore real-world problems and challenges, typically creating a more active and engaged learner who is inspired to dig deeper into the subject they’re studying. It’s a slower, more drawn out method of learning that uses the teacher mainly as a facilitator, but a method where “the kids own the work,” says VanderZwaag.

In PBL, students start with a challenge to problem solve—often a local community issue—work through a series of programmed steps together to find potential solutions, research the ramifications of the solutions, and then present publicly their final solution choice.

“It’s certainly more engaging, student led; it gives them a sense of ownership,” said Eena Davis, RP 6th grade teacher. “You have to let students make mistakes, trust the process. It turns the learning adventure into a quest, and kids get excited about quests.”

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You have to let students make mistakes, trust the process. It turns the learning adventure into a quest, and kids get excited about quests.

Sounds cool, right? But how do you teach teachers who have been teaching several years already, who learned a different style of teaching back in college how to teach in this exciting manner? Even new teachers fresh out of college don’t always have the method down by any means. That’s why we’re so fortunate to have the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s (OAISD) Future PREP’d ichallengeU program in our town.

Started originally by Jason Pasatta with the OAISD, iChallengeU is a two-week summer educational opportunity for local teachers to work with 11th and 12th-grade students in developing solutions to real problems posed by area businesses, civic and community partners. Two teachers are given a handful of students, and after they learn the 21st Century Skills as laid out by the OAISD, they are paired with an area business to solve a specific problem for them over the two weeks. Past problems have included what should Continental Dairy do with excess water left after milk processing, how can HCMS create a more welcoming environment, what can Haworth do with leftover scrap material so they are a zero waste facility, or how can Ottawa County best handle the issue of truancy?

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The life skills these kids learn! One thing I have really taken to heart is to really see failure as a good thing, as a starting point. I’m still wrestling with that, but want that to be a component in all I do.

The high school students can win college scholarships and earn college credit if they perform well, the teachers get paid a stipend while experiencing in depth a new teaching method—and hopefully at the end, the businesses walk away with some realistic solutions in their pockets. The OAISD even has iChallengeUth, a one-week version for middle school students, and “Sundae School,” the K-5th grade version that creates new ice cream sundaes for seven local ice cream shops.

“You can’t teach that way all the time,” said HCMS PE teacher Joel Leegwater ’98. “Not all students like this kind of method of teaching—especially the quieter kids, but it’s still a good way to make what they’re learning have real life applications and interest.”

“The exposure students get to these kinds of industries can’t be matched,” said Josh Rumpsa, HCHS social studies teacher who has completed the summer program twice now, and is continuing through the school year leading area students through the Future PREP’d Academy. He lists off all the local industries he’s been able to bring HC and local students into through iChallengeU: Transmatic, Royal Plastics, Haworth, Ottawa County Sherrif’s Department, OMT. Plus “the life skills these kids learn! One thing I have really taken to heart is to really see failure as a good thing, as a starting point. I’m still wrestling with that, but want that to be a component in all I do.”

But what’s exciting to us are all the pieces of project based learning that are growing on HC’s campuses, thanks to the iChallengeU program: The 7th grade research project will be transformed into a local research event this spring, according to HCMS Language Arts teacher Sam Fox’s plans. Katelyn Roskamp has found PBL aspects to use in her middle school Spanish class, as well as in her JV volleyball coaching. Joel Leegwater is pushing the boundaries in middle school PE classes, so that students create their own games, and focus on fitness habits for a lifetime. He hopes to pair his students up with local fitness facilities to find out how to help motivate adult—and kids—to stay fit.

If you enter RP 6th grade teacher Eena Davis’ science classroom, you might wonder about the rock “village” that lines her counter—they’re the painted rock friends that are driving their geology research, to figure out the history of their exact type of rock; instead of just memorizing geological structures and facts, they’re applying them to create the story of their rock characters. They even use bits and pieces of the PBL thinking in Karen Strikwerda’s South Side kindergarten class. And 7th grade math students just finished a whole carnival of PBL cardboard games that they created to study probability, all while interacting with Pine Ridge 3rd graders.

PBL is behind a lot of the high school Winterim classes like Anna Boorsma’s Rube Goldberg Machines so that she is tying in local engineering experts into the weeklong class, trying to figure out how to plug the students’ creations into the larger Holland community. Josh Rumpsa’s Social Work Winterim class, called “Foster Love,” also plugs into the local community in a fashion taught him through PBL.

And Kim VanderZwaag’s 4th graders after tromping around Pigeon Creek and Hemlock Crossings, learned a great deal about spotted knapweed, an invasive species, and then problem solved a variety of ways to increase local awareness to get rid of the noxious weed.

“You learn more about it [through PBL], and it’s more fun because you actually need to think more and learn more about it,” said Ayden Hoek ’26. His classmates also appreciated the connection with outside experts: “You learn more that way, and we got inspired by [the experts]! Instead of wondering ‘Why are you teaching us this?'” added Avery Lampen ’26.

“I think this type of work is pretty inspiring for the kids,” said Kim VanderZwaag. “It gives purpose to things we would otherwise learn in isolated lessons. When students have a reason to learn something, it sinks in more.”

And, she adds “Employers are typically very willing to work with teachers and students on these types of projects as well, because these are the skills the companies want their future employees to have.”

This type of work is pretty inspiring for the kids. It gives purpose to things we would otherwise learn in isolated lessons. When students have a reason to learn something, it sinks in more.